OFFICE OF INNOCENCE: A Novel, by Thomas Keneally. Nan A. Talese/Doubleday. 319 pp. $25.
Reviewed by BARBARA SONNENBERG, a retired public librarian
currently serving on the St. Anthony Messenger Press Advisory Board.
PROBABLY BEST KNOWN for the award-winning
book Schindler’s List, Australian author Thomas
Keneally has returned to the fiction genre for Office
of Innocence. Newly ordained Father Frank Darragh
has been missioned as curate in a town on the outskirts of
Sydney. War has erupted in the Pacific theater and it is rumored
that a Japanese invasion is imminent.
Msgr. Carolan, the pastor, is a respected money-raiser
and a staunch traditionalist in both personal and religious
matters. While Father Darragh is assigned the early Masses,
late Benedictions and lowly duties ordinarily completed by
a sacristan, the monsignor views the extremely long lines
at the curate’s confessional as a self-inflicted penance
garnered by his dispensing gentle admonitions and light penances.
It is in the confessional that Darragh is first
exposed to the seamier side of life as “...[h]e had been exactly
the sort of unsullied, unworldly, yet not stupid young man
the seminary sought.”
Most of the Australian fighting force has been
away at war for some time. Money is scarce and rationing is
in force, but now American forces are arriving with brash
confidence in their untested abilities and unprecedented generosity
in dispensing their goods and favors. Naturally, they expect
some services in return.
When a young American MP requests a Mass for
his deceased aunt and later asks Father Darragh to persuade
an African-American deserter to surrender peacefully, the
curate learns of the racism rife in the U.S. Army.
Then he is confronted with a homosexual man who
will make no attempt to control his sexual urges, and a ménage
a trois with a Catholic parishioner dying of tuberculosis.
An elderly neighbor and friend of his own mother contemplates
the morality of killing women to save their bodies from desecration
by the invading armies.
Father Darragh’s innocence and religious confidence
are shaken. Theoretical seminary disquisitions on similar
despicable matters appear inadequate when faced with real-life
conditions, especially during wartime.
Then he finds himself strongly attracted to Kate
Heggarty. Mother of a young son and married to a prisoner
of war being held by the Germans, Kate is accepting groceries
from “...a decent fellow, but he is a fellow after all. I
was intending...well, let me say, not to give him any encouragement.
I am a married woman. But I need to take the risk of those
‘occasions of sin’ you speak of, for my sake and Anthony’s.”
When tragedy befalls Kate, Father Darragh is ostracized
by the Church hierarchy and placed under suspicion by the
Keneally excels in vivid character portrayals
and, with his own personal seminary experience, has outdone
himself in creating the very human Frank Darragh—so naïve,
so trusting. The eternal struggle between the sacred and the
world, the flesh and the devil is recounted with wry irony
and delightful humor. The hierarchy of the Church appears
to feel that a 10-day retreat will solve all problems of conscience
just in time for a return to the busy weekend Mass/Confession
The unique physical and historical settings emphasize
just how universal and timeless is a crisis of faith.
Beautifully crafted, this psychological study
of a very dedicated but naïve priest is rewarding but not
easy reading. Mature adult Catholics, of both sexes, will
sympathize and empathize with the curate’s trials and be reminded
of the vast majority of priests who have not only survived
their crises of faith but also become more compassionate because
You can order OFFICE OF INNOCENCE: A Novel from
St. Francis Bookshop.
PRAYING LIFE: Seeking God in All Things, by Deborah
Smith Douglas. Morehouse Publishing. 116 pp. $13.95.
Reviewed by the MOST REV. ROBERT MORNEAU, auxiliary bishop
of Green Bay, Wisconsin.
LUMINOSITY characterizes this thoughtful,
inspiring volume. Essay after essay reminds me of the clarity
of a trumpet’s lofty note. Whether speaking of prayer or healing,
spiritual companionship or fruitfulness, Deborah Smith Douglas
is not only on key but even melodic in her sharing both the
product of personal spirituality and the harvest of her extensive
The central theme of this work is contained in
a clear, direct formula: “realization of God’s presence, trust
in God’s purpose, deep availability to God’s will.” The realization
is dependent to a large extent upon a life of prayer and reflection;
the trust is grounded in God’s healing touch as witnessed
in the life of Jesus and the compassion of the community;
the deep availability flows out of our relationship with Jesus
and the grace of friendship.
The Praying Life is divided into four sections:
1) Ways of Praying; 2) Healing; 3) Spiritual Companionship;
and 4) Fruitfulness. The 15 chapters (ranging from four to
12 pages) and four poems present the search for God in all
things, or, perhaps more accurately, God’s seeking us out
in all the circumstances of our pilgrim journey.
The style is both poetic and narrative. Story plays a major
role in the author’s spirituality; image and metaphor become
the means of expressing insight concerning the action of grace.
It is through narrative that our horizons are stretched. In
The Praying Life we are invited time and again into
biblical stories and given a prayerful, compelling commentary.
Also drawn from Scripture and the Christian tradition are
images and metaphors (e.g., vine and branches, fire) that
give us a sense of identity and mission.
One of the needs on the spiritual journey is balance.
Deborah Douglas is explicit about the need for contemplation
and action, the value of personal friendship and
community, and the integration of faith and work.
Life is dialectical; our planet is one of both/and
and much less of either/or. This text presents a holistic
One of the great benefits in a prayerful reading of this
book is to hear the insights and wisdom from a variety of
authors: C. S. Lewis and Evelyn Underhill, Henri Nouwen and
Thomas à Kempis, Thomas Kelly and Teresa of Avila, John of
the Cross and Simone Weil. Interspersed are the poets: Robert
Frost, Emily Dickinson, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Rainer Maria
Rilke. The Praying Life is peppered with pearls and
“patchlights” of grace.
The author is a wife and mother, spiritual director
and retreat guide, lawyer and pilgrim. So who would benefit
from her reflections? Parents and seekers, professional people
and college students, anyone who is desirous of seeking God
in all things.
This book is yet another means by which God is
seeking us. Be assured that Francis Thompson’s hound of heaven
and C. S. Lewis’s Aslan are on the loose.
You can order THE PRAYING LIFE: Seeking God in All
Things from St.
A True Chicago Ghost Story: Tales of a Forgotten Rectory,
by Rocco A. Facchini and Daniel J. Facchini. Illustrations
by David R. Facchini. Foreword by Tim Unsworth. Lake Claremont
Press (4650 North Rockwell Avenue, Chicago, IL 60625; www.lakeclaremont.com).
268 pp. $15.
Reviewed by BARBARA BECKWITH, a native of Chicago and
book review editor of this publication. Her uncle’s brother,
Edward Reading, was a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago,
and may have overlapped the book’s author at the “Big House,”
St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein, Illinois.
A TRUE GHOST STORY, yes—this is the haunting
by an auxiliary bishop of his former parish’s rectory. Muldoon
is also the story of the immigrant Church in Chicago and the
author’s personal story as well—how a young priest was thrown
into a miserable assignment under a tyrannical pastor whose
main “pastoral” concern was bingo.
Rocco A. Facchini was ordained in 1956 for the
Archdiocese of Chicago. After 15 years, he resigned from the
priesthood, became a real-estate broker and property manager,
and married. His two sons helped him with this retirement
project—one as coauthor, the other as illustrator.
Facchini’s first assignment was to St. Charles Borromeo Parish
on Chicago’s Near West Side. The church had been built in
1896 by then-Father Peter J. Muldoon, the second pastor of
Named an auxiliary bishop in 1900, Muldoon was passed over
to head the Chicago Archdiocese but in 1908 was chosen to
head the new Diocese of Rockford. He died there in 1927.
Muldoon was born of Irish immigrant parents in
California in 1862. Muldoon’s appointment as auxiliary rather
than Father Jeremiah J. Crowley, who had been born in Ireland,
started a rift in Chicago between the Irish-born clergy and
the “narrow backs” (American-born clergy of Irish descent).
Irate, Crowley attacked Muldoon, called him inept,
a drunk and a pervert—all baseless accusations. Crowley eventually
was excommunicated, returned to the Church, then left and
wrote vitriolic anti-Catholic tracts, billing himself as “the
According to Facchini and his fellow priests at St. Charles,
Muldoon haunted St. Charles, supposedly, because he planned
to be buried behind the main altar of this church he had built
but was laid to rest in Rockford instead. The St. Charles
priests all heard unexplained noises—footsteps, doors slammed,
cabinets shaken—and observed opened windows and doors.
These happenings mostly occurred after decisions
were made that would doom St. Charles to extinction. After
Facchini left, two people even claimed to have seen the bishop
in his old study.
Facchini has not used the real name of the pastor
of St. Charles but calls him Kane, because what is said of
him is damning. On Facchini’s first day at St. Charles, the
pastor didn’t shake his hand but instead showed him the boiler
room for the parish complex and assigned him bingo duties.
The parish secretary and Kane’s dog were his only
confidantes. Kane started a shrine to St. Anne, which was
Kane told Facchini not to get involved in ministry to African-Americans
or with the hospitals expanding nearby—the parish’s new opportunities.
The final straws that broke Facchini were Kane
accusing him of stealing six cents from schoolchildren’s offering
envelopes and berating him for reading funeral prayers for
a non-Catholic child—because he might have missed setting
up for bingo.
Facchini lasted four years with Kane (far longer
than other assistants). Facchini served at two other parishes
before asking to leave the priesthood. (Bishops now carefully
select a priest’s first assignment because it is so critical.)
It’s no wonder Muldoon haunted this dysfunctional
St. Charles Borromeo church, rectory, convent
and school were razed in 1969, victims of shifting population
patterns and shortsighted leadership.
The book’s chronology is excellent, and the historical
photos and drawings wonderful. But lots of diversions in this
book—like Chicago being built on ground sacred to the Indians
and the 1960 America article, “On Loving the Poor”
by the Rev. William A. Schumacher, another of St. Charles’s
assistant pastors—could have been skipped.
Muldoon is an exposé of the old clerical
culture, with lots of Catholic and Chicago history thrown
in. But the book raises more questions than it answers. I
wonder, Who or where will Muldoon haunt now?
You can order MULDOON: A True Chicago Ghost Story:
Tales of a Forgotten Rectory from St.
The Spiritual Path to Transformation, by Bernard
Tickerhoof. Twenty-Third Publications. 225 pp. $19.95.
Reviewed by the REV. DONNA SCHAPER, pastor of Coral Gables
Congregational Church in Coral Gables, Florida.
IF YOU HAVE ever experienced the sense of
being caught between a rock and a hard place, of knowing the
no-win and no-way-out situations, this simple and profound
theological book can help you. It will reframe your life.
From hating these kinds of tensions and feeling helplessly
buffeted by them, you will learn to appreciate them.
A Roman Catholic spiritual director, the author
has also drunk deeply at other wells, including Zen, Taoism,
the Greeks and even chaos theory. The Tao unites yin and yang.
The Zen breathes the paradox.
The book is very astute on the Apollonian and
Dionysian expressions of life. Indeed, it argues that we need
more than a “wise governance” of one over the other. Instead,
we need an integration of their paradox.
“A case could be made, for example, that the high
degree of addiction to alcohol, drugs and so many other things
in our society is itself in large part a shadow reaction to
Apollonian repression. My head cannot be truly free if my
heart and my body remain captive,” writes Tickerhoof.
Similarly, chaos theory is based on the magnetism
of opposites. When Tickerhoof talks about paradox, he is not
talking about the simple linking of opposites but about their
unity and need of the other.
The stories are also very well told. One tells
of a woman who had a finely crafted antique mahogany table.
She ordered the table cut in half in her will for her two
already quarreling daughters. The reunification of the daughters
and the table shows quite deeply what Tickerhoof means by
paradox being the spiritual path to transformation.
The metaphor of breath with its exhalation and
inhalation is used for the need to go out and then in and
then out again. “Once we have entered paradox, we are no longer
hampered by fear. We have seen both sides of reality and so
there is nothing further that can threaten us....To try to
hold on to the Spirit indefinitely is to collapse....You will
have to let go of it, so that the Spirit can flow out of you
again,” explains Tickerhoof.
My favorite point in the entire book is the playful
use of the paradox of freedom. “The best things in life are
free. The best things in life come at a terrible price. The
best things in life are free at a terrible price. Without
the price, the freedom isn’t really there. Freedom, without
transforming consciousness, is ultimately an illusion.”
The Reign of God is seen only with eyes that are
free. This fine book can free our eyes so that we can truly
see beyond the double binds into the Reign of God.
You can order PARADOX: The Spiritual Path to Transformation
from St. Francis